Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Toward Inclusive and Equitable Education for All: Lessons from the experiences of New Zealand refugee background university students

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Version 2 2023-09-26, 23:59
Version 1 2021-12-08, 17:36
posted on 2023-09-26, 23:59 authored by Willette, Sarah

The ability of education to transform individuals' lives, and by extension those of their communities and societies, is well documented. As such, education is at the heart of the United Nations’ (2015) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represented by SDG 4, “Quality Education”, which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Tertiary education institutions (TEIs) in particular have been highlighted as critical settings from which SDGs can be better understood and achieved.  Although the benefits of tertiary education are well understood, access to, and participation within, TEIs remains unequal for students from marginalized backgrounds, particularly those from refugee backgrounds (RBs). Over the last twenty-five years, research has begun to consider issues relating to access and participation within TEIs for students from refugee backgrounds (SRBs) highlighting numerous barriers that they face. However, very few studies have focused on identifying strengths, capabilities and supports.  The experiences of SRBs within the contexts of New Zealand TEIs are vastly understudied. In response to this gap, as well as to the dominance of barrier-focused literature, this thesis considers the experiences of SRBs within New Zealand universities from a strengths-based lens. It seeks to understand what has enhanced the experiences of SRBs, and what can facilitate further positive experiences for them in the future. It answers the primary research question: “What is working well to enhance the experiences of SRBs within New Zealand universities and why?”  To answer this question, a transformative research approach using Appreciative Inquiry (AI) methodology was taken. Primary data was generated using semi-structured interviews with sixteen undergraduate and postgraduate SRBs at four different New Zealand universities. The data was analysed using thematic analysis.  This analysis identifies several targeted provisions and personal strengths that are working well to enhance the experiences of SRBs within New Zealand universities. Comparing these results with the current landscape of targeted provisioning and policy relating to SRBs in TEIs, I argue that existing and future initiatives could be (re)designed to emphasise: social connections, institutional welcome, staff advocacy, financial provisioning, and the resource of family and community. In addition, this study strongly advocates for the designation of SRBs as an equity group within national level policy, in order to mandate all universities to provide targeted provisioning.  Overall, this research provides a New Zealand-specific perspective on the growing body of literature centred on the experiences of SRBs within tertiary education. Its strengths-based AI framework offers a unique understanding of how future practice and policy can be developed around what is working well for students. Additionally, its New Zealand context unsettles traditional understandings of where education and development research and initiatives are conducted and implemented.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


Kindon, Sara; Joe, Angela